What Radio’s Future Leaders Need To Consider


(By Radio Ink Chairman Eric Rhoads) Like all younger generations, especially those who come into their parents’ businesses, they can see things their parents don’t see. They see fresh ways of reaching people, they see new opportunities, and they see things differently than their parents. And of course they also understand new things like the latest technology that their parents often have not embraced. It’s a mark of younger generations to want to do things differently from their parents.

The parents, on the other hand, may or may not be willing to embrace new things, or may be perceived as set in their ways — when that actually might be far from reality. And though some are set in their ways, they may be clinging to their habits for real, practical reasons.

Junior comes along and tells Mom and Dad they are living in the past and wants to change everything. They need to listen, but they also need to train Junior that chasing every new shiny object isn’t always the right thing to do. Mom and Dad have decades of experience, may have themselves chased shiny objects at times, and they know what works, what doesn’t, and what’s practical and profitable — something less experienced people might not understand. It’s a delicate balance.

A great example of this is the experience of a friend of mine who ran the national advertising for a major automotive brand that answered to the dealers’ association — which is now dominated by the next generation, those whose parents built the business, retired, and handed over control. My friend’s agency begged the dealers not to give up TV, radio, and print, but it fell on deaf ears with a digital generation who wanted to do things their own way.

The result was that sales went down when the dealers abandoned what worked and moved to an all-digital platform. But they decided it was the agency’s fault, and fired the agency. The younger generation simply thought they knew better, and ignored what was working because they perceived it to be old.

So what about the next generation stepping in to run radio? For sure, they must look to what’s new and help radio embrace what we’ve been missing. Yet they also must keep a foothold in what works. The key issue the new generation needs to face is how radio can compete in a digital world. Remember the days when radio was focused on the local newspaper as the competition, and on how to take revenue from the papers? Now we’ve got to find ways to compete with social media, search media, and even newer options like AI-driven solutions.

Radio’s frequent response to digital natives is “Yeah, but we’re better, we can do more, we have relationships with our listeners,” but those arguments won’t work when we’re competing with the ability to measure immediate ROI. Or with a company like Clinch.co, which has automated ad development — it tests hundreds of ads simultaneously, and picks the one getting the best response, so ROI increases. How can you compete with that?

If there is anything the old generation is doing that the new generation does need to change, it’s this idea that we can compete as we are, when the bigger issue right now is even getting to the table to be considered. We, as an industry, need to be able to match the tool sets offered by giant mega-companies to prove radio’s value and ROI in the world most advertisers are living in. That means focusing on our ability to predispose consumers to brands so they seek those brands in search. This is where time and
attention is required.

The harsh reality is that the next-gen business owner is taking control of every local business that has been a loyal radio advertiser in the past. The mere fact that their parents used radio is a black mark in their eyes, no matter how effective radio was or still is. We as an industry need a strong and solid program to prove to these people that we can lower their acquisition costs in search and social, making radio a part of the digital conversation — rather than pretending digital doesn’t exist or promoting a banner ads digital strategy that became irrelevant years ago.

I’m encouraged to see some very strong young leaders emerging in radio, and I’ve got great hope for our future because these leaders seem to understand what needs to be done to survive and thrive in the modern world.

Eric Rhoads is Chairman of Radio Ink magazine and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. So, what if the younger generation’s advice through their clear eyes is to shut down those transmitters and make that spectrum available for more Wifi and Smartphones? Whoops!


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